One of my favorite bloggers is Kevin Kelly, who is a technology enthusiast. He is brilliant, but because I view technology with a jaundiced eye, I often disagree with him. As case in point was his recent post called “What Books Will Become,” in which Kelly cheerleads for the demise of paper-based books. The ending of his paean includes this (probably) visionary statement:
In the long run (next 10-20 years) we won’t pay for individual books any more than we’ll pay for individual songs or movies. All will be streamed in paid subscription services; you’ll just “borrow” what you want. That defuses the current anxiety to produce a container for ebooks that can be owned. Ebooks won’t be owned. They’ll be accessed.
I trust that Kelly’s enthusiasm is clear. Here’s a slightly buffed up version of my reply to his post:
I wonder what will happen in 20 or 30 years when we’ve all moved on to ebooks housed in the Cloud and our government—let’s contemplate the worst case—decides to deprive its citizens us of access to them. (This shift is already in progress around the world.) We’d have a revolution? Hardly. We are already so effectively cowed that criminal bankers (for example) can go on perpetrating their frauds without masses of Americans taking to the streets. Which brings up the further point that access to all these ebooks will be managed by corporations that have no fundamental interest in the free exchange of ideas—maybe even less interest than the government does. Personally, I prefer private control of private libraries, and hope the day never comes when we have no access to knowledge, only access to access.
The technological trend is with people like Kelly and against people like me, I’m sure, and I expect to live long enough to see Access World—a corporatocracy, benign or not—achieve hegemony. More’s the pity.